"W" is for West Coast Haunt Convention

Traveling always produces writing fodder. Always.

Let me begin by saying that I did wash my hands this trip. First time readers may find this a disturbing way to begin a blog post, but my regular audience will understand that my cleanliness has never been called into question--just my travel planning and memory. I have a love/hate relationship with airports. I love them, as they represent adventure, but I also hate them because my presence at airports often scrambles the TSA security team like NFL players over a fumbled football. "Get her!" they might say. "It's that dummy wearing the sparkly jeans again!"

Not this time. The Portland trip did not produce familiar tales of pat-downs or bomb sniffing devices associated with me on all of my recent flights. No. This time I took so much attention carefully selecting "body scanner friendly" clothes that I evidently ran out of time to properly pack my suitcase. At 11:00 p.m. on the night before my 6:00 a.m. flight, I still hadn't packed my bags. My schedule had been sidelined for several days when my daughters contracted the worst flu I'd ever witnessed. I'd been sanitizing, spraying, and scrubbing everything they'd touched because I wanted to quash this violent bug before it got anyone else--especially the one of us who'd be in Portland for a week. So pack? Nah. I'd just throw some stuff in the suitcase.

As many of you know, I have a tendency to play chicken with the 50-pound weight limit imposed on travelers with their checked bags. I have it down. I can pack a suitcase, do curls with it in my bedroom, and know within a pound if I'm close to 50. As I wearily rolled my suitcase into the Bakersfield airport very early on the day of my flight, however, it occurred to me that it was rolling hard.

"Uh-oh," I heard myself say as I neared the counter.

"What?" Rob said as he scanned my clothes looking for sparkles that would set off alarms again. He'd already told me not to wear lotion.

"I have a weird feeling that my bag is going to be too heavy. It feels funny."

And by funny, what I'm really saying is, "Oh CRAP! I am totally over 50 pounds today." 

As I waited my turn in line, I thought back to last year when I'd stood behind a family of five  heading to Hawaii. With three of their huge suitcases weighing-in at about 55 pounds each, they were forced to unzip their bags and shuffle private belongings across all the luggage to bring each single bag back to the 50-pound limit. The idea that they were just redistributing the same clothes was ludicrous to me. The plane did not get any lighter. Do they REALLY keep track of the weight in these planes, anyway? Is there like a guy sitting somewhere counting pounds? 

The answer is yes, and this information will become prevalent on my return trip.

So as I stood there reminiscing how smugly I'd watched that poor family expose their personal belongings for all to see, and had secretly berated them for not understanding the packing prowess of the more travel savvy set, I started to get hot. Airports are generally cold to me. I think I knew Karma had bought a round of drinks and was waiting for today's main event.

"Ohhhh, I'm sorry. You're at almost 54 pounds. You'll need to take something out," said the commie head mistress of the airline scale. 

My eyes bugged, but I went quickly to work while she helped the next traveler. Since I'd already played this game years ago in Rhode Island, I knew a blow dryer would get me close, so I yanked that out and looked at the scale. 52.8 pounds. I'd way overpacked haunt t-shirts for a charity auction, so I grabbed a handful of those and tossed them onto the cold tile. 51.0. Arrrghhh! I felt like I was on The Price is Right.

"That's fine!" said the scale mistress as she handed me my boarding pass. "You're good to go."

Was I? I was now holding a blow dryer and three scary t-shirts, a backpack and my purse, my driver license and a boarding pass. I needed one hand for coffee, for heaven's sake. I was not fine.

The line for security was long enough for me to contemplate what to do. And by long enough, what I'm really saying is I wondered who the opening act was for the Justin Bieber concert that must be happening on the other side of the metal detectors. I eventually managed to stuff everything into my purse and backpack, but now resembled a bag lady with a blow dryer in her purse rather than the cosmopolitan air traveler Carrie Bradshaw lookalike I'd been shooting for.

My flight to San Francisco was uneventful, but S.F. to Portland presented the challenge of losing the seat game that we all play when we board a flight. Who will be my seat mate? Will it be male, female, interesting, introvert? I don't usually do well at this game, and flight 6226 was no exception. My pal was an 80-ish year old man who breathed only out of his mouth. Our seats are close. I wondered what disease I was going to get from him on this flight.

It didn't take long to realize that he wasn't the one the passengers needed to worry about. It was Outbreak 2, and I had the lead role.

Midway to Portland, I began to feel a bit of nausea. And I was still hot. I ignored it and assumed I was having phantom sickness due to the old man's breath and the girls' flu. But by the time we deplaned and I'd gotten my luggage, I could not ignore what I knew was coming. Check-in at the hotel took longer than normal, so I nearly didn't make it to my room. Stripping off those travel savvy clothes, I dove into bed, where I stayed for the next 25 hours. The only outside contact I had was with the front desk, who agreed to open my door and throw in ice water and Sprite at regular intervals.

I. Wanted. To. Die.

The convention was successful, if you don't necessarily count my seminar, where the effects of the fever seemed to melt all access to my vocabulary. I was searching for words. "Suspension of disbelief" became "You know, like when you want to ignore that something is fake and pretend that it's real long enough to have a good time?" Wow. English major extraordinaire, use your big girl words, would you?

After five days, I couldn't wait to get home. I slept from Portland to San Francisco, so when I arrived at SFO, I was wide awake and ready for my 60-minute leg to Bakersfield. Sitting beside a pilot in the terminal, I listened to his private phone call to his wife. "I can't wait to wake up and have coffee with my bride," he said. My heart swelled. Then the loud speaker came on, and my romantically swelled heart plummeted to my stomach.

"Ladies and gentlemen of flight 5303 to Bakersfield, we are looking for a passenger with flexible travel plans to get off this plane. We are too heavy for take-off and cannot depart until someone volunteers to take a later flight."

Seriously? You mean they really do count pounds?

While she was talking, I glanced at the pilot, whose eyes had bugged out like he'd never heard such an announcement. That was all it took, and I was up out of my chair like my sparkly butt was on fire. Heading across the terminal, I made the sure, quick-footed steps of a woman not to be curtailed. I was prepared to stiff-arm anyone who got in my way. If our plane was in jeopardy of falling from the sky, I was the one getting off--no one else. As you know, I'm not the world's most secure flyer; if that plane was too heavy (probably my 51-pound bag), I would not be on it. 

I suddenly had $150 in travel vouchers and an extra three hours to spend in San Francisco International Airport. C'mon… you know it's coming…

"Waiter, drink please!"

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